The first musings on automation's potential strengths and weaknesses trace back as far as the Industrial Revolution, but the conversation has evolved significantly in the past few years given how far the technology has progressed. Some of the very same concerns that began hundreds of years ago remain as poignant today as ever, such as the potentially negative impact automation can have on the workforce, supplanting humans and taking job opportunities in the process.
In fact, American novelist Kurt Vonnegut spent the majority of his first novel, "Player Piano," which was published in 1954 under the original title "Utopia," musing about the cultural wasteland automation could potentially yield should it not be used in a responsible fashion. Suffice it to say this was far from being the most hopeful and cheery of novels, but it nonetheless mattered greatly given the importance of worst-case-scenarios being known among leaders before they make decisions.
Now, science fiction aside, the fact of the matter is automation is a necessary and highly effective form of technology in the modern era, and one that is really not optional any longer. What has become clear of late is that automation needs to be used in a strategically sound fashion, and simply trying to replace workers with software is not much of a revolutionary or profitable idea quite yet, nor is it clear whether that will ever be smart.
Instead, leveraging automation to support employees rather than replace them appears to be the best move today, and will likely always be given the importance of human intervention and communication in business matters. The current trend in this arena is the use of automation for infrastructure management in the IT department, which can be one of the more significant improvements to operations so long as the company gets the deployment right.
Out of control?
One of the main reasons why automation should not yet be viewed as a technology to replace employees is the need for staff control of operations and processes. In the case of infrastructure, automation is critical to ensure secure, continuous, resilient and effective delivery of IT services, access to storage environments and more. The balance that must be struck when deploying automation tools for infrastructure demands plenty of internal research and a wealth of expertise among those in charge of managing the technology.
Gartner recently reported that these matters might end up laying waste to leaders' desires to remain in control of their IT frameworks and functions. Now, it is worth noting that cloud computing had this impact pretty early on, with a high rate of organizations quickly choosing to use managed services, but this is not necessarily akin to the surrender of all decision-making responsibilities to machines.
According to the analysts, machines are indeed becoming smarter at a rapid pace, and it would make sense for organizations to automate the process of decision-making so that analytics programs are handling these procedures from start to finish. Whether this is a good thing or not is yet to be seen, but the analysts do believe that steps need to be taken now to ensure that risks do not rise as machines have a greater control of enterprise operations.
"In effect, smart machines are now collecting information about practically every facet of human activity on a continual, pervasive and uncontrollable basis, with no option to 'turn off' the activity. The potential reputational damage arising from uncontrolled and inappropriate data collection is well-established and can be substantial," Gartner Fellow and VP Stephen Prentice affirmed. "CIOs should work hard to increase awareness of this issue inside the organization and ensure that the implications of this activity are fully understood and that appropriate controls, processes and procedures are established."
No doubt this report was more focused upon big data and machine learning, but the same types of challenges, risks and potential rewards exist with infrastructure automation.
Control without the strain
The right approach to IT infrastructure automation does not involve the surrender of control, but rather the streamlining of responsibilities involved in management, maintenance and the like. Businesses that want to get the most out of their technological assets will certainly need to leverage automation for efficiency and consistency purposes, but do not necessarily need to stand in a position where their leaders cannot make final decisions.
Leveraging the support of a reliable and experienced managed service provider to deploy, configure, manage and maintain the infrastructure, as well as the automation tools involved, can have a dramatic and positive impact on the IT department at large. At the same time, MSPs will still be held accountable and follow the guidelines and demands of clientele, meaning that control is retained while the strain is released.